Covering the Evolving COVID-19 Pandemic
The research reports and news on COVID-19 provided by the Science family of journals played a key role in support of the delivery of vaccines and antiviral treatments protecting against the disease’s worst outcomes. But uneven vaccine rollout and alarming outbreaks of new variants highlighted the continuing need for rapid policy solutions and clear communication, a need addressed by many AAAS efforts.
Putting Science in the Center
Most new vaccines take years to develop — but the first COVID-19 vaccines were crafted only 11 months after the virus’s global debut. Science magazine reporting, supported by the Pulitzer Center, the Heising-Simons Foundation and several individual donors, provided critical context on the vaccine race to help our readers trust the research behind the shots. Across the Science family of journals, we were committed to telling the full, complex stories behind the pandemic, including award-winning investigations into rare vaccine complications and long COVID-19 and research on the geographic and social effects of COVID-19-related mobility and social distancing policies.
Science correspondent Jon Cohen has been one of science journalism’s strongest voices throughout the pandemic. His decades-long, award-winning reporting on infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS ensured that Science would have deep knowledge and access to key figures in research, politics and industry during the race toward a vaccine. Cohen’s central role in Academy Award-nominated filmmaker David France’s HBO documentary How to Survive a Pandemic, released in 2022, showcased his relentless reporting, with his clear and timely writing often quoted in the documentary’s narrative.
An antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 became a reality in 2021. Science published the first peer-reviewed report of the discovery and characterization of the antiviral drug Paxlovid. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization use for the drug in December 2021. COVID-19 antiviral drugs were among the runners-up for Science’s Breakthrough of the Year.
SCIENCE PRESS PACKAGE
reporters and growing every week (new ones joining weekly)
weeks of the year
we produced press packages for all six Science family journals (five of which are weekly)
We promoted more than160
COVID-19 immediate release papers across our journals to reporters.
Throughout the year, misinformation and partisan politics encouraged polarized views of the origins of COVID-19. In September 2021, Science brought science back to the center of the discussion, gathering a group of researchers with different perspectives on the origins of COVID-19. The discussion – livestreamed across eight social media pages – was one of the only events in 2021 where scientists conversed directly with each other about the origins question and outlined the steps needed to resolve it. The event received significant media coverage and public views on social media. Speakers and viewers praised Science for providing a forum for a civil and informative discussion that had been lacking otherwise, and the event kicked off a wave of discussions that continued for months to follow.
Beyond the Beat: Connecting Reporters With Scientist Sources
New vaccines, new treatments, evolving public health mandates — SciLine, AAAS’ free service for reporters, connected journalists with scientists to help the public make sense of the latest on COVID-19. With support from the Quadrivium Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, MAC3 Impact Philanthropies, Dan Pinkel, Ph.D., and others, the independent service provided 24 COVID-19-related media opportunities for journalists featuring scores of experts in virology, epidemiology and vaccinology — in addition to connecting hundreds of reporters to COVID-19 experts, one on one, through its matching service. Additionally, SciLine provided background briefings, prepared quotes from experts and provided one-on-one on-camera availabilities. Topics ranged from the latest on new variants to advice on how to safely gather for the holidays, with special attention to meeting the needs of print, radio and TV reporters not usually on the science beat but called upon to cover the pandemic’s widespread effects.
2021 COVID-19 MATCHING SERVICE REQUESTS
unique news outlets
reporters writing for local outlets
local news outlets representing 50 cities in 29 states
SciLine’s Matching Service responds to requests from reporters seeking expertise for stories. SciLine finds a scientist able to meet each reporter’s needs, and makes an introduction so they can talk together.
COVID-19 MEDIA BRIEFINGS
total attendees (including freelancers)
cities in 38 states
Including staff writers from98
of them local
cities in 30 states
Placing Scientists to Inform Pandemic Policy
For 49 years, the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) have placed scientists and engineers throughout the U.S. government to share their expertise and to help craft, communicate and implement policy solutions. In 2021, fellows sprang into action to meet pandemic-related challenges by:
- Organizing vaccine distribution to U.S. diplomatic missions.
- Modeling the economic impacts of the pandemic on the United States and other countries.
- Responding to constituents’ questions on the new vaccines and urging use of the U.S. Defense Production Act to manufacture rapid COVID-19 tests.
- Serving as lead legislative liaison at the National Institutes of Health for 22 congressional inquiries on COVID-19.
- Helping monitor and oversee a study of how COVID-19 impacts pregnancy outcomes.
- Drafting communications to federal agencies about how to ensure COVID-19 vaccine trials can adequately enroll diverse populations.
- Examining the effects of disrupted and deferred care on the health of veterans during the pandemic.
- Designing a National Science Foundation challenge to higher education institutions to spark ideas for systemic solutions to mitigate long-term impacts of the pandemic on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in science, technology, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).
Philanthropists Irwin Jacobs, Ph.D., and Joan Jacobs formalized a $2 million matching gift challenge in 2021 to spur the creation of an endowment that will increase our capacity to fulfill demand on Capitol Hill, where requests for fellows eclipse the number available by two to one. Ray and Meredith Rothrock; Steven Chu, Ph.D., and Jean Chu, Ph.D.; Franklin Orr, Ph.D., and Susan Orr; Philip Needleman, Ph.D., and Sima Needleman; and others have made generous commitments in response to this challenge.
At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, STPF Fellow Ambika Bumb helped repatriate more than 100,000 people on over 1,100 flights from around the world, an effort formally lauded by both the State Department and the U.S. Senate. Pictured here, Ambika with her daughter and father.
Photo courtesy of Ambika Bumb
2021 AAAS Mass Media Fellow Shares Her Experience Reporting on COVID-19
In November 2019, Maddie Bender was applying to Yale University’s Master of Public Health program. “In my cover letter, I literally wrote about how people are going to report on the next pandemic, and why it’s so critical that reporters have this grounding in public health and basic epidemiology,” Bender said. “And I didn’t realize just how relevant that would be.”
Bender, a 2021 AAAS Mass Media Fellow, was soon writing about the pandemic for outlets from Popular Science to Vice. Some of her favorite stories involved equitable access to vaccines and the underground of pseudoscience related to the virus. “I think what has been most difficult for me, probably, has been capturing the human element and the magnitude of loss and staying emotionally strong,” she said.
The AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowships are made possible by support from Johnson & Johnson and other generous donors and partners.